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For My Writer Friends

Duh…

This blog is mostly directed toward the readership—specifically, my readership, as nascent as it is. Today thought, I’m going to stab the right pedal, throw in a little right cyclic, and while keeping the power pegged at around 85%, exit the pattern to do something a little different.

Truth be told, I’ve always been a little pissed with authors who are always hocking their work. Back at the turn of this century, I made contact with one David Brin, the scribe who presented us with the Uplift War series, a truly fantastic science fiction serial that set the (SF literary) world on fire back in 1983 with his second entry, Startide Rising. (I’d bought his first entry, Sundiver, back in maybe 1980 but actually read it after the second book.) I’d thought back then that maybe, possibly, I’d be able to foster something of a relationship between us, author to author. Instead, I got the standard “buy my stuff!” with breakdowns of all the past works and upcoming works, and a quick “And hey, you’re from my home town!” just to ensure there was a bit of a personal connection. (At the time, I was in Los Angeles, California. I recall LA fondly, which is why I’m overjoyed to see it laid low in my series The Last Town.)

It was a turn-off, obviously. That a Big Name Author™ would respond to one of his readers in such a mercenary way kind of pissed me off. But of course, the fault is my own. What was I expecting, really? To a lot of authors, readers are just a means to an end. To this day, whenever I see an author hocking his wares on FB, or just posing holding his book out front, it sends a subliminal signal that at the end of the day, his/her target audience is just a series of dollar signs that need to be cultivated.

Lesson one: don’t do that shit.

Just kidding. We all have to mix in sales with our correspondence, because that’s part of doing business. Especially when you’re selling the fantasy of fiction; you need to lean forward in the foxhole and push yourself, otherwise you’ll be lost in the jumble. That was all Brin was doing back in 2002, trying to maintain some degree of awareness with his readership with the status of his work. While it pissed me off then, it doesn’t now.

Lesson two: Ignore Lesson One, but you need to be cool about it.

I get approached by incubating authors quite often. Taking time to read the work of others is a dicey thing; they invariably think they’re professional caliber, and you invariably think they’re not. This is an exercise in skipping across Occam’s Razor. You want to help, but in doing so you delay your own work. Sometimes, this is a gesture you should freely offer. Other times, it isn’t. Which is which I’ll leave to you to decide, but I’ll offer some tips—if the requestor’s Facebook posts are frequently misspelled, beg off. If the requestor is a fanboi who you suspect is going to offer a tired pastiche of other genres with Star Trek technology thrown in…pass. If the author is offering work that seems replicated from your own—oh sweet Jesus, find a way out of it. Legal reasons aside, you do not want to start reading stuff that’s like your own, because you never know what your wetware is going to recall years down the road, and the last thing you want is for someone to come after you for “ripping them off”. (By the way, plagiarism is only a real thing when you do what Stephen Ambrose did, and present another author’s work word-for-word as your own. Ripping off someone else’s intellectual property, such as retelling another story with different words and with different details, is a dicier proposition, but still capable of summoning legal injunction. Avoid this.)

Sidebar, yer Honor: I have about four point zillion story ideas already, yet people always approach me with “an idea” that could be a big hit if I were to write it. Sometimes, that works out, such as when Craig DiLouie came up with the idea for The Retreat series. In the most cunning of ways, he pitched the premise to me at Spark’s Steak House in New York City one summer evening, and waited to get to the pulse of the matter until after I’d consumed several glasses of wine while miserly sipping from his glass of home-brew rosé. Obviously, when a writer of Craig’s distinction comes to you with a request for a meeting, you should take it seriously. Regrettably, most of the folks vying for your attention don’t have his marquee value. So unless someone like Shawn Chesser or Hugh Howey or Scott Wolf (?) approaches you, go shields up and wait it out. Maybe they’re not nutters just looking to hitch their wagon to whatever star you might be in possession of, but be tough and analytical. This is a business. Be a businessperson, not just a glorified typist.

Continuing the sidebar, and this leads to some deep waters: I honestly write maybe nine hours a week. If I’m dedicated to it, that nine hours a week translates to six figures in writing income. In my normal daytime life, I work 40 hours a week and still make six figures, which sounds like a lot until you become familiar with New York City economics, and then you discover that makes you a near-transient member of the middle class (something New York politicians are desperately trying to stamp out; they envision a city populated by both the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, so they can lobby the former for funds to support the latter). Now listen kids, nine hours a week isn’t a lot of time to spend on something so profitable. If my personal life didn’t include a foreign-born wife who can’t really integrate into American society and a child who wasn’t scoring a ten-point-zero on the special needs scale, I could so do that in my sleep. At my best, when I know where a story is going and I know what I need to do to get there, I crank 2,000 words an hour. In nine hours, that’s 18,000 words. In two months, that’s a long book. In theory, I should be able to pump out a minimum of six really fat books a year.

Damn me, but life just doesn’t work that way.

The boss needs you to go all in on a three million dollar project, and surprise, you’re the only smart guy on the team. The wife can’t get up before two in the afternoon for weeks on end. The kid gets sick. The truck throws a rod even though you change the oil religiously, and your mom goes into the hospital. The dog needs its shots, and the kid needs someone to drive him to therapy, and you’re the only one with a driver’s license. Then you get sick, because you’re exhausted from running full throttle for weeks at end. But sleep eludes you, because your bank has just encountered a severity one emergency, and remember, you’re the only smart guy. Your father dies, and he was penniless but somehow managed to amass a mountain of debt. The second car, the troop carrier you use for shopping and daily family errands, gets a critical recall but the dealership doesn’t have the parts in stock, and won’t for the next three weeks—so you can’t really drive it with your kid, and remember, the truck is getting repaired. You don’t own a bicycle, so it’s time to break out the Mark 1 running shoes and get busy in this thankfully pedestrian-oriented place you live.

Suddenly, that time-intensive thing called writing needs to be deferred.

Lesson three: Take care of life. The writing can and should wait.

Okay, okay. All of this should make common sense, at least to most people. If you’re already lost, you’re not one of the “most people”, so the following might be difficult for you. But if you’re made it this far, by all means–press on! The primer is over! (Warning: Mucho Foul Lingo approaches!)

THE REAL DEAL: WHAT IT TAKES TO WRITE SUCCESSFULLY (and if you disagree, blow me)

Ah, the business of writing! So much to say, so much experience to impart! These are where the real nuggets of knowledge exist, or at least those which I can present. Take note, class. Quiz later!

Listen, let me make it really, really simple. Pay attention, lads and lasses…this is a 54-year-old son of a bitch telling you what he knows. If you’re older than me, piss off, and let me know how your 401(K) is doing, because mine never included tending to a special needs kid who will outlive me by 50 years. So you think YOU have problems?

Bullet list, in my personal pecking order:

Write a fucking book. Sounds easy, but isn’t. Takes weeks, months, years. Be dedicated. Be thorough. Be able to push on past the fallacy of “writer’s block”, which is the code name assigned to your circumstances when you think you want to write, but instead want to watch America’s Got Talent or maybe check out PornHub and see what’s new. Nothing autobiographical in that last example, I guarantee. And if that isn’t sufficient, I plead the Fifth. I never knew about that rogue porn server, honest!

Get your work edited. Seriously, if you can afford to hire an editor but don’t, you’re fist-fucking yourself in the ass without lube. I learned this the hard way with The Gathering Dead, where I depended on my own editorial skills to see me through. I got very, very lucky here—the story I told was apparently strong enough to make most folks see through the maze of typos, illogic, and general asshattery that went on in the early drafts. Yes, a full-on edit of this morass of gonzo wordology cost me a thousand or so dollars, but in the end…it was worth it. Now recall, I make six figures at the outset. This means I can afford to piss away money on editorial expenses. For those who can’t, don’t release your work right away. Have it read. Not by your mother or your boy/girlfriend, but by people you trust to give you honest-to-God feedback. In the days of CompuServe, which my dear friend and occasional co-author Derek Paterson will recall most fondly, these were called “That’s Nice Dear” critiques. Meaning, these were offered by people who were afraid of offending you. Avoid these, they only prolong the agony.

And keep in mind that just because D.J. Molles managed to put out works that were ridden with typos, inaccuracies, and a Special Forces Hero™ who always got his ass beat and made the worst calls in history but still managed to score big sales, doesn’t mean that you will. More likely than not, you’ll be wondering why you make $3.42 every month.

Just ask my pal Jarret Liotta. Even my name on the cover of Dead in the City of Angels wasn’t enough. Sometimes, the story sucks, and you need to know about that before you release it. Personal experience here, folks…personal experience.

Get a real cover. Listen, I pay over a thousand bucks for most of my covers. My wife shrieks at that, but this is the first thing that people will see. Make an impression. And that impression doesn’t include whipping something up in PowerPoint using some image from the web and calling it a day. Sometimes, you have to pay it forward, and with covers? Dudes…pay it forward. Please. Because while no surveys have been conducted about home-brew covers, I’m operating under the presumption that they’re about as well received as Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email server. Which was probably running Exchange Server 5.5 in plain vanilla format, without even the benefit of ESMTP/TLS. (Though due to Bryan Pagliano’s limited immunity to prosecution, we’ll never know which best practices table was followed.)

When you think it’s ready for release…it isn’t. I came into this with a backlog of stories. City of the Damned was accepted and paid for by two publishers before ranks changed, new editors and marketing people came on board, and it was eventually tossed from the slots. I got to keep the advance money (Oh, an amazing 5,000 bucks!) because I wasn’t the defaulting party, but it still left me high and dry. My agent(s) got to keep their commissions, and after taxes, I was about $3,000 ahead per sale. But the book wasn’t published, meaning my champagne dreams and caviar wishes were once again deferred. But COTD had already been edited, so it truly was ready to do. The Gathering Dead? Not so much. I uncaged that one early, and have the poor reviews for it. Don’t be a dick like I was. Sit on your multimillion dollar, sure-fire best seller for a month or so and go over it with a fine-tooth comb. You’ll be amazed at what shakes out after a couple of rereads. “What, you don’t like that Hansel and Gretel go down on each other? You think there’s a problem there?”

Yeah, things like that.

Writer’s Block Doesn’t Really Exist. This is, like, the biggest whiny-bitch excuse to get around writing. Yeah, as I type this, I should be finishing up These Dead Lands: Desolation. Or Earthfall 2. Or the prequel to The Gathering Dead, titled Whispers of the Dead. But I’m not, so is this writer’s block at work? No, writer’s block is actually the sissy millennial’s way of getting out of work. But here I am, actually writing something as opposed to watching Magnum P.I. on NetFlix. Writing is a solitary profession, and it involves periods of the long, hard slog through your own mind and the desolate landscapes it presents. This is part and parcel of the job. Just do it, and save the excuses for another time.

Sometimes the story you came up with sucks/isn’t that awesome. Listen, this happens to all of us. I’d hoped for a major career change with Charges, a story about a guy with no special skills who manages to survive a mass EMP event. I happen to think it’s a damn fine story, because it’s one that average folks might be able to relate to…if they happened to be emerging from a skyscraper on Billionaire’s Row after the lights went out forever. While I still have enough hope for Charges to continue on with the series (next book is called Marauders and the third is called Ravagers), I’m smart enough to correct past mistakes going forward. (Look for an emphasis on action, and less on Navel Gazing, which I cover below.) And the fact of the matter is, I shot myself in the ass the moment I decided on the storyline. As someone who’s read his fair share of post-apoc stories, I know instinctively what the readers want to see: the maligned survivalist who’s at long last proven right when the hammer falls, and has to lead/defend/establish his new community in the next age of mankind. It doesn’t matter if the hero is a sixteen year old who suddenly, inexplicably, has all the depth and experience of a Marine with 35 years of service as a senior NCO or if he’s just a Joe with a bunch of guns and a gut full of fortitude down Fort Sam Houston way—at the end of the day, people don’t want to read about some New York City liberal who manages to get lucky, even if his back story is well-rounded and plausible. They want a hero who’s prepared to take on the new America.

Reread the above paragraph and learn from it, my erstwhile padawans. Sometimes, genre determines the outcome, not the author. You might actually be adroit enough to spin a tall tale that runs counter to consumer expectation, but unless your name is Cormac McCarthy not only will you be spurned, people will hate the fact you forgot what an apostrophe is.

Enough with the navel-gazing—get on with it! Sometimes, we as authors find ourselves confronted with a set of circumstances that require a lot of back story. Back story that, in the end, never becomes meaningful in the context of the story we want to tell. This results in boring text. And boring text has been typified by the oracle of writing, Elmore Leonard, thusly:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Yes. This. If you’ve written something long and convoluted and oh so priceless to your character’s development which he/she doesn’t actually do but only recalls in reverie, get rid of it. Then go see your doctor for a shot of antibiotics to ensure you aren’t carrying boredomitis with you for the rest of your life.

Now, if this can be sketched in a paragraph or two, then drop it in. A couple of paragraphs becomes motivation. If it waxes on for page after page—my personal standard is two, unless it’s a gritty flashback like the Afghanistan scene in The Gathering Dead, which illustrates the gulf between McDaniels and Gartell—then cut it out, or figure a way to distill it down to its bare essence. This is one of two areas where legacy publishing beats the tar out of self-publishing. The legacy guys know how to get a story moving. Well, mostly. Unless they’re editing a story by already-mentioned literary lion Cormac McCarthy, then they have to wrestle with the whole apostrophe-versus-Chicago-Style-Guide checklist maelstrom, which I’m sure had a lot of heads hitting desks over at Knopf-Doubleday.

This item ties in neatly with the following one, which is:

Get to the fucking point. You have a lean, mean story to tell, but you keep slowing it down because you’ve been infected by that disorder known as Purple Prose. Listen, really…who gives a good God damn that the draperies in the New York City penthouse apartment are wrought with actual gold filament? Who lives here, Hugh Hefner? And if so, what the hell is that crusty old fossil doing in New York City anyway, do they allow 8,000 year old Viagra patients to travel? Here’s a great example of what not to do:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

That’s, like, one fucking sentence. Even Roger Zelazny wouldn’t have churned that out (or would he?). Become close friends with Our Pal The Period and his slutty sister, The Comma. And at least check in every now and then with their dumb cousins, The Ellipsis and The Em-Dash. You never know, they might actually prevent someone from returning your book and cursing your name in their final epitaph.

Research is fun, but it’s not writing. This actually ties in to #1, but I’ve been drinking and didn’t think to add it up there. However, in a last-ditch bid to put off going to Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s also important enough to call out on its own. While I know and follow this rule, others don’t. There’s a guy I know, smart fellow, very up on what’s happening in the world, who wants to write a book. He keeps sending me fiery bon mots about what this character backgrounds are, what this plot point would be, how awesome that scene could play out. And mostly, he’s right—he’s got some solid stuff going on, stuff that I’d be writing right now. Literally, everything is laid out except for some bargain-basement mechanics that could be straightened out in twenty-four hours.

But instead of writing it, he keeps sending me more little tidbits about the book that still hasn’t happened. “Hey, did you know that X in this circumstance could result in Y? I should put that in my book!”

Why, yes. Yes, you should, you fucking jerkoff, except you’re apparently too lazy to get to writing that book you’re talking about.

In this instance, I transcribed one of his scenes to my Blackberry (My Blackberry! Oh, the humanity!) and showed it to him. He read it and said, “Hey, that’s my stuff! I mean, it’s written pretty well and the words are all different, but that’s like, my stuff! Right?”

My response: “Yeah, it was six months ago. Guess what, it goes in my next book, and you don’t get shit. I figured since it’s been all talk up to now, that it’s free for the taking. So, really man, thanks for giving me $25,000 in first-month royalties for free. Love you, bye.”

Now listen, I’m actually not going to do this. Like I said, I have roughly eleventy-billion ideas already—I don’t really need to crib from someone else. But my aside had the desired effect. The dude is now writing, as opposed to researching and playing a bunch of “what-if” games. And I wish him well, he has some dynamite scenes out there in his head, I hope he can distill them down to a linear format that eventually finds its way to one kick-ass post-apocalypse book.

Don’t do this, people. Don’t sit around thinking about something and never making it happen—this obviously has a larger context in life than writing a damn novel. Know a hot girl/guy you want to ask out? Plan the approach, then execute. Have a few grand in a bank account but are waiting for just the right moment to enter the equities market? Listen, Brexit was your cue, so if you missed it, get in now anyway. Saw a job opening but your resume isn’t fresh enough to make an impression? Get that stuff squared away RIGHT NOW, and that means stop reading this page.

Because really…research, plotting, contemplating? None of that is writing, and writing is where the money is.

Oh my God, this book sucks—I can’t release this!

Ah, the bane of every writer. At least, every writer who has managed to progress past #4.

So you’ve written 30,000 40,000 100,000 130,000 words over many months and many revisions. It’s been read, reread, proofed, edited, and proofed again. The prose is tight, the story is dynamite, and the characters and their motivations are solid. But you’re ridden by fear. What if it tanks? What if no one likes it? What if I get bad reviews? What if it charts at #4,389,000 like that shitty zombie novel Dead in the City of Angels by Stephen Knight and Jarret Liotta?

There’s a line in a famous novel that I like to quote in circumstances like this:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Written by Frank Herbert in his science fiction masterpiece, Dune.

Alternately, I could offer up this sage advice from Scott Wolf, who in Army Special Forces was given one of Herbert’s honorifics from the same novel—Muad’Dib:

“Stop being a fucking pussy.”

It should be noted for those unaware, that Muad’Dib was described by Herbert thusly:

“Muad’Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. Muad’Dib creates his own water. Muad’Dib hides from the sun and travels in the cool night. Muad’Dib is fruitful and multiplies over the land. Muad’Dib we call ‘instructor-of-boys.’ That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul Muad’Dib, who is Usul among us.”

(The above should be read in the terse, husky voice of Stilgar.)

Both quotes basically take you to the same place. You’ve done the work, now let it run free. If it loves you, it will come back. If you’re lucky, it will come back towing a huge duffel bag full of money and the admiration of thousands, including pictures of nubile Tennessee girls flaunting their wares delivered directly to your email account. More possibly, it will just come back smelling really shitty like it’s rolled around in an open sewer outside of Shenzhen, China, and you should examine it for used condoms clinging to its matted fur before allowing it in the house. But either way, you’ll have to own up to it. Writing has never come with a warranty or a guarantee of any kind. If it did, we’d all be making millions.

And we’re not.

Keep the faith, brothers and sisters. Write, and keep writing. Success may not find you, but if it does, it will have done so only if you provide the world with the gift of your words. If not, if you only think about writing but never do it, then I can only offer the following (paraphrased from Sydney Poitier in the flick A Piece of the Action which I saw in 1977 in a theater in a black neighborhood of Akron, Ohio):

“What you’re talking about here is masturbation. It feels good, but generates nothing.”

So at least keep your happy sock handy. And use far less parentheticals than I did in this missive.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to SFC Ballantine trying to figure out how he’s going to handle Diana Li in These Dead Lands: Desolation.

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THE GATHERING DEAD Film Update #3

June 27, 2012 4 comments

Well folks, things continue to move apace on this, and I’m finding myself in some interesting circumstances… none of which I can talk about right this very second, but will hopefull be able to detail in the coming weeks. I will tell you this: Those folks who say you have to wait for people to come to you are flat out wrong. With the right contacts, the proper business acumen, and a credible property, you can definitely go to people.

And those people will want to hear what you have to say.

Anyway, here’s a matte shot from the upcoming TGD trailer. This is McDaniels’s POV as the MH-60M Black Hawk cruises out of the city, moments before the crash. This is a static frame from the unfinished rendering, and it’s missing many elements, but I think it’s worthy enough to show off, with the attached caveat that it’s only going to get better from here.

Hope you dig it!

McDaniels’s POV as he looks out over New York City while extracting the Safires.

THE GATHERING DEAD Film Fund

March 20, 2012 6 comments

Now that I’ve officially put The Rising Horde to bed and delivered it to the folks who need to take it to the next level–and I wish them lots of luck, according to my print template, the book is 761 pages long–I’m returning to The Gathering Dead Film Fund. Some cool stuff is shaping up in the wings, though most of it doesn’t involve the crowdfunding site.

I’ve put up a placeholder trailer on the campaign site, just music and text, and the words aren’t my own: the belong to my cover artist, the erstwhile Jared Rackler, who surprised me with his rather adroit ability to provide some good cutlines. This is just something to keep the campaign site alive, which leads me to…

I’ve contracted a job with some effects artists who have put in time working for VFX houses like Rhythm & Hues. The idea is to render some scenes from the book/script and make a 30 second sizzle reel. What’ll be covered? Well, the helicopter crash sequence in NYC and the aftermath, where McDaniels, Gartrell, and the rest of the troops hold off the stenches while the Safires are whisked to safety in the office building the team takes residence in. Also some footage of NYC being overrun, with lower Manhattan on fire, complete with flames, explosions, orbiting helicopters passing in and out of the thick smoke, and over course, zombies coursing through the traffic-choked streets.

Lastly, I had the incredible good sense to reach out to several of my boyhood friends, who are either in the industry or know a lot of people who can get this project moving forward. It’s a crap shoot, of course–there are a lot of “rules” to moviemaking that don’t make a bit of sense in the business world where I come from, and there’s a lot to learn. Of course, I’m pre-loaded with attorneys, contracts, and actionable material (including an honest-to-God high-concept intellectual property), so I’m willing to lead with my chin and, for a time, my wallet. I’m currently pulling together a more focused treatment–read that as a synopsis–of the script to show around and get some temperature checks on what the next moves will be. My closest confidant and general moneybags guy is betting the farm on the trailer opening a butt load of doors for us, and I think his instincts are good. And he’s already rounded up some heavy artillery, by way of Hollywood folks to start priming the pump. This all cool stuff, folks.

More goodness to come, I hope. This is going to be a long endeavor, and if I’m guessing right, nothing’s going to happen for at least a year while we start pulling in funding and package the project. Will keep all updated as things progress.

Tomorrow, one last bit from The Rising Horde, then it’s the waiting game until release. Stay cool, y’all.

THE RISING HORDE: It’s All About Soy Sauce

January 19, 2012 22 comments

As the zombie horde closes in on SPARTA during one cold desert night, a certain promoted senior noncommissioned officer does his final check of the troops manning the perimeter…and a certain condiment becomes a point of discussion.

“Man, check that shit out,” the Doofus said as he stood up and looked over the sandbagged revetment he manned with Roche and Shen. He had his night vision goggles pushed up on their helmet mount since there were so many floodlights everywhere. Roche did the same, and he looked toward the north. The city of Odessa was on fire, and it left a glowing orange smear that seemed to stretch across the entire horizon.

“Never seen anything quite like that before,” Shen said from behind him. “Not even when I was in L.A. once during the wildfire season.”

“That shit’s definitely messed up. I mean, even if it’s just Odessa, it’s still an American city that’s burning to the ground.” the Doof shook his head sadly. “Never thought I’d see that kind of shit here at home.”

“I hear you, Doof,” Roche said. “I don’t think any of us ever did.”

Shen raised his SCAR to his shoulder and peered through its night vision scope. He slowly panned the rifle from left to right, then stopped suddenly. “Target, about four hundred meters out…single zed, coming in from the desert—” A muffled crack sounded from the observation tower to their left, and Shen grunted in disdain. “Scratch that. There was a target coming at us.”

Roche grinned. “Don’t sound so down and out, man. A few million more where that one came from.”

“Rangers, you guys doing all right?”

Roche turned and found Command Sergeant Major Gartrell standing beside their position. He held his AA-12 in a ready position, and like the rest of the Rangers manning the wall, his NVGs were pushed up on their mount, ready for use when required. Roche knew Gartrell was a hard-assed SOB, one real hard-charger who would ride a troop hard just to make a point. But he’d also fought the stenches in New York City, which was no party at all, and he’d even been left behind the lines by himself for a few days. Any guy that could get through that and walk out alive was someone Roche thought he should pay attention to.

“We’re good here, Sarmajor. Just waiting for the hammer to come down.”

“It will, don’t worry about that.” Gartrell looked at Roche directly for a moment. “Roche, is it? I thought you were one of those Darth Vader types.” The reference was to the SOICS gear that some of the Rangers used to give them additional mobility and greater firepower during raids. While still new to even the special operations community, the high-tech exoskeletons were already well-regarded as powerful tools that turned individual soldiers into significant force multipliers across the battlefield. But the Army changed slowly, and any new technological advance was always met by some flat-headed Neanderthals who pooh-poohed its utility. So SOICS-equipped Rangers were called Darth Vaders, and the intimation was they were more robot than human.

“We’ll only deploy that outside the wall,” Roche said. He pointed past the sandbags toward the tiers of deep trenches, berms, HESCO barriers and concertina wire. Gartrell looked in the direction he indicated, and Roche pointed out the SOICS troops manning the decontamination/hazmat areas that had been set up inside the wire. Back when they were still allowing civilians inside, that is.

“Up here, SOICS isn’t of much use since we don’t have to cover a lot of terrain to fight,” Roche explained. “We’re just moving along the CONEX containers. But if the stenches can make it through the wires and trenches, we’ll man up and deploy it against them down there, to keep them back from the berm.”

Gartrell nodded and looked toward the inferno on the horizon. He regarded it for a long moment. “When did that start? Looks like the entire town’s going up.”

“About forty minutes or so,” said Shen. Gartrell nodded to him, and when the sergeant major looked back at the blaze, Shen started making faces behind his back. Roche kept his face blank, even though it was kind of funny. Very juvenile, but funny too, kind of like a man putting his head inside an alligator’s open mouth and daring it to bite him.

“So Shen, you wear the Darth Vader outfit too?” Gartrell asked.

“That’s right, Sergeant Major.” When Gartrell didn’t turn back to him, Shen made another face, flipping his tongue in and out of his mouth as if he was licking an ice cream cone at full speed. Roche shook his head slightly, and the Doofus hid his grin behind his hand.

“Then I’ll tell you what.” Gartrell turned back to Shen and looked at him flatly. “If you don’t stop making faces when my back is turned, I won’t kick your robot balls so hard they’ll need to give you a full series of WD-40 transfusions to bring you back from the brink of death. What do you say to that, Ranger?”

“Uh, I say that’s a great trade, Sarmajor,” Shen said, surprised that Gartrell had known about his antics all along.

“Hey Sarmajor, check this out,” the Doofus said. He apparently thought Shen needed some saving, so he rolled up the sleeve of his uniform and showed his tattoo to Gartrell. “Whadya think of this? Pretty awesome, huh?”

Gartrell looked at the tattoo for a long moment. “‘Soy sauce?’ You got a tat that says soy sauce, son?”

The Doofus looked like he was about to jump off the side of the tall container they stood on. “What? Sarmajor, you know Chinese? This says ‘killing dragon,’ man!”

Gartrell looked at him evenly. “I know several key words and phrases in several different languages, soldier. That tat says ‘soy sauce.’ Which means you’re either very odd, very stupid, or very gullible and got punked in a pretty major way.”

“Oh fuck.” The Doof looked at his tattoo with wide eyes. “Are you fucking kidding me, Sarmajor? Tell me you’re fucking kidding me, man!”

Gartrell looked at him with a hard, almost reptilian gaze. “Do I look like I’m having a ha-ha moment, Ranger?”

“Oh fuck,” the Doofus repeated.

“Snap out of it, son. Look at it this way—at least the zeds will know who to turn to when they want to season their next meal.”

“Gee, thanks a whole hell of a lot.”

Gartrell patted the Doofus on the shoulder. “Remember, son. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”

 In the home stretch, so this might be the last look into what’s happening with The Rising Horde. Do look for an extract from White Tiger over the next few days, just for a change of pace!

Peace, out.

New York Times: Amazon Signs Writers, Cuts Publishers Out

October 17, 2011 18 comments

Oh boy, like it’s something a zillion people didn’t already know.

But when the Gray Lady herself starts covering it, then you know it’s got to be the real deal…finally.

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

But there’s still tons of denial out there. Just recently, I watched from a near distance as a veteran horror author cautioned a fledgling writer to find an agent, and not self-publish. He didn’t mention the years of waiting that would be involved; the months waiting for an agent to read and agree to represent, the months of trying to sell the manuscript to an editor, the time it would take for the editor to sell the product internally–it has to have the blessing of the marketing department, you know–the edits, the rewrites, the acceptance, the printing, the distribution, and finally, if all goes well, the earn out. We’re talking years.

And at no time did the veteran mention to the newcomer that the agent will be helping him/herself to 15% of all earnings–forever. And that 15% of a 6-8% royalty is a lot of work for doing nothing.

I know several published authors–some big names, too–who are trying self-publishing. They’ll release old or maybe even new short stories, and then bitch that they’re not raking in the money across the transom. Readers want novels, not short stories, but these big guns give up their novels to the publishing industry (and 15% of all proceeds to agents) instead. I don’t get it, myself. There are most certainly instances where individuals have gone to win the publishing gold doing it their way–hell, see the NYT article–but I guess once you’re set in your ways, there’s no going back.

Fine by me, I guess. I’m digging the whole self-pub cycle, even though it’s a hell of a lot of work. But the best guy I’ve ever worked for is myself, so I’m unusually motivated to keep my boss happy.

These Aren’t Romero’s Zombies.

October 13, 2011 1 comment

Writing.

A Special Reconnaissance ODA has just rolled up on a single stench. One of the troops starts playing around with it, because it’s slow and stupid and kind of pathetic.

Then more stenches rise up out of the ground. They buried themselves in the Texas desert, and the Green Berets didn’t figure it out in time. Dozens of them. The Special Forces troops are surrounded.

The stenches aren’t so dumb anymore.

They know how to hunt.

Music zombies attack by:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg02T7H5rFs&feature=BFa&list=PLF913E8D5BBAF8A30&lf=mh_lolz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qum03eXQCYQ&feature=BFa&list=PLF913E8D5BBAF8A30&lf=mh_lolz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbUGtKOML7E&feature=BFa&list=PLF913E8D5BBAF8A30&lf=mh_lolz

National Novel Writing Month

October 3, 2011 4 comments

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, will kick off on November 1, 2011. The goal of this exercise is to write at least 50,000 words in one month, which breaks down to a measly 1,667 words or so a day.

Wait a second, did he say measly?

Why yes…yes I did.

1,667 words in the world I live in these days is maybe half my normal output. I have a fairly busy, active life–I work a minimum of 13 hours a day, own a home and have all the usual maintenance woes, have all the usual ups and downs of life, and coupled with my 24 hour playboy lifestyle (?), I still cruise at around 3,000 words. A day. Virtually every day, though I do loaf here and there.

I’ve participated in past NaNos, and while at first the 1,667 word daily goal was a bit arduous, I got over that pretty quickly. As a matter of fact, last year’s NaNo gave me about 63,000 words of The Gathering Dead. So it really can be time well spent.

But I don’t think I’ll be participating this year. I’ll have the first draft of The Rising Horde finished on October 20, and while that’s being beta-read and edited, I’ll launch into a partially-done science fiction adventure book called Tribes. But I’ll be getting a head start on everybody else, and it just doesn’t feel right to drop a half-finished book into the mix, because I’ll have already spooled up the Great Writing Machine, and by the time November 1 comes around, I’ll have hit my stride. And then I’ll have to stop halfway through the first or second week to tend to rewrites on The Rising Horde before I release that product into the wild. So while there’s a chance I might make the requisite 50,000 word count every NaNo participant is supposed to produce, I’m not going to lock myself into something that will be nagging at the back of my mind. With other projects in play, it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it for me.

But for those of you who are out there and who want to take a crack at it–well hot damn, have yourself a go at it, cowboys. But the 1,667 target is a light one–caffeine up and go for 2,000. Or better yet, 2,500–that way, you’ll have awesome company, because another guy named Steve writes at around 2,500 words per day. But he’s not just a lowly Knight, he’s the King.

As in Stephen King, if you need me to spell it out.

2,500 words is a walk in the park for me these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally break out in a sweat from doing it. So if you’re going to go NaNo, do it up right–go for 2,500 words a day, and on November 30, you’ll have written a full-on novel. In a month.

You’ve got some time to prepare. Pay your bills early, stock up the fridge, and overwrite the night before Thanksgiving, so you can take some time to see the fam and gobble down some turkey. And the next day, skip the Black Friday shopping deals (we have the innernets now damn it, no need to go out and fight for a parking space), and churn out another 2,500 words. Go for the gold–don’t write three-quarters of the book in November, write a full-on book!

To quote Rob Schneider from the films The Waterboy and Little Nicky: “You can do it!”

Edit To Add: Would have been nice if I’d delivered the NANO link, eh? Sorry for being a thoughtless bastard–here it is: NaNoWriMo

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